This month the CSFF Blog Tour is about our favorite book in Christian Spec Fic. So, I thought this might be a great opportunity to post my Top 10 favorites. Not all in my Top 10 are Christian Spec Fic, but the majority are. I hope you enjoy my list, and if you haven’t read one of them then I highly recommend them all.
As you look through it, you’ll see that there are only six authors listed and you may think that I’m not very well read. I can assure you I am. It’s just that I’m very difficult to impress, as you can see by reading some of the reviews I’ve done. To make it to this list, you need to impress me beyond doubt. Each of these books left me breathless at the end, wanting more, and missing the characters the next day. Do you know what I mean? That doesn’t happen to me often.
10. The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley
This fantasy takes place in the iconic British exploration and colonial era. It’s about a young woman who unknowingly returns to the lands of her ancestors. Magic awakens in her blood, and she is stolen away by the King of Damar and regains her heritage. Her Kelar (magic) is the strongest in generations, and she is given the legendary Blue Sword that can only be wielded by the hands of a woman.
McKinley excels in character development and world building. This fantasy world is reminiscent of Gunga Din and Arabian Nights. The unique spin on magic is expertly done. It’s a relatively short read for a fantasy, and is a stand alone novel.
I own a 1st edition hardback.
9. Harry Potter (series), by J. K. Rowling
Though some ultra-conservatives may not agree with this choice, you cannot deny that J. K. Rowling single-handedly made reading cool for a new generation. That alone deserves props. But unlike some vampire novels of which I know, Rowling is actually an excellent writer. Those against Harry Potter say the magic is too real and too important. But as I study supernatural theology, I can tell you that the magic in Harry Potter is NOTHING like real world magic. If you want to get a glimpse of the real thing, check out the movies Practical Magic and The Craft. However, I’m not here to start a debate… so please don’t go there.
Anyway, in Harry Potter I see a classic good vs. evil story, with magic used as a literary delivery system. The series ending has a profoundly theological twist worthy of any Christian Spec Fic. For that ending alone, you should read this series.
8. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
So what Christian author isn’t a Tolkien fan? Plenty has been said about the man who defined modern fantasy. There’s not much more for me to add, except that when I read fantasy LOTR is my measuring stick. To get the extent of my Tolkien nerdiness, check out the paper I did in undergrad school on the gods of the Silmarillion (published under the pen name Oliver King.) CLICK HERE
I own collector’s edition hardbacks.
7. Red, by Ted Dekker
The first of two Dekker books that make my list, it is the second book of the Circle Trilogy… which now has four books, but I haven’t read the last one yet. Anyway, lots of writers want to retell the crucifixion. Many authors try, only to have their fantastical retelling pale in comparison to the actual events. Dekker’s tried more than once.
But with Red… to use a teenage girl acronym… OMG! This is by far the absolute best crucifixion retelling that I have ever read. Not only is it an accurate parallel, but ALL the elements are there: the Romans, the High Priest and Pharisees, the beating, the rending of the temple veil. It’s ALL there. It’s all expertly written into the perfect allegory.
Of course you have to read Black first, but it’s worth it even if you don’t finish the series after Red.
6. This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti
Outside of C. S. Lewis and the infamous Left Behind books, this is the first real Christian Spec Fic I ever read. I read it my freshman year of college, and after putting writing aside for quite awhile, this book reminded me that I wanted to write. My brain started following those familiar tracks again, drifting into other worlds and getting to know fictitious characters.
Not only that, but I think most everybody will agree that this book is the one that really started the Christian Spec Fic movement. It blazed trails and opened doors that many people didn’t realize existed. In my opinion, this book did for Christian Spec Fic what LOTR did for fantasy.
5. Thr3e, by Ted Dekker
Having read lots of books in lots of different genres, I can honestly say that there are several familiar patterns. You’ve been there I’m sure. There’s nothing new under the sun, and if you spend much time reading it gets fairly simple to predict the development of the plot and the ending. You just have to learn to enjoy the journey. It’s been a very long time since a book has surprised me.
Thr3e surprised me. And that alone is why it makes the top five.
The thing is, I saw it coming. I saw what Dekker was doing, knew where the story was going, and I STILL didn’t know what would happen at the end until Dekker wanted me to! I read somewhere that Ted wrote this book like he wanted the reader to experience it. He wrote it, not knowing how he would end it… he just refused to think about it. And at that pivotal moment, he made a snap decision and took the book in that certain direction. So the moment I knew what would happen, is the same moment that he knew.
Want to be surprised? Read this book.
4. Perelandra, by C. S. Lewis
This little known book by Lewis was actually written before Narnia. It is the second book in his Space Trilogy, but each of those books are capable of standing on their own. With this trilogy he proves that he was also a master of sci-fi, not just fantasy.
Perelandra is a retelling of the Garden of Eden. It’s happening all over again, this time on another planet. God sends someone from Earth to try to stop Satan from repeating history.
Not only is this world amazing, with land that floats and rolls on top of the waves of a watery world, but the theology is some of the deepest I’ve read. Imagine a scene where Eve sits between two men. One is trying to convince her to ignore the commands of God, and the other is debating him in an effort to convince her to continue to obey. Stunning.
3. The Visitation, by Frank Peretti
Don’t watch the movie. They left out the best half of the book.
What makes this book special to me, is that the main visible story is really only a secondary story. I must admit, this book had a lot of influence on me as I wrote Winter.
The main visible story is told in two different points of view. When following the main character, Peretti uses first person. But when we move somewhere else, he switches to third. There are also flashbacks… to me, the crux of what the story is really about.
On the surface, this is a story of someone coming to town claiming to be Jesus returned. A burned-out former pastor doesn’t believe him, even though the rest of the town falls for it head first. This former pastor sets out on a mission to expose the fraud. Meanwhile, flashbacks show us his spiritual journey from before salvation up to the point where he leaves the pastorate. In the end, he comes full circle spiritually… and to me, that’s the REAL story.
If you’ve read Winter and The Visitation, you can see the influence I’m sure. That’s why this one makes my top three.
2. Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis
I love the whole Narnia series. But this book in particular stands out to me. I can read it over and over again, and not get tired of it. The subtle theology in this book is the best of the series, wrapped up in a life changing epic for all the characters.
My favorite quotes are from this book.
“Oh, Aslan,” said she, “it was kind of you to come.”
“I have been here all the time,” said he, “but you have just made me visible.”
“Aslan!” said Lucy almost a little reproachfully. “Don’t make fun of me. As if anything I could do would make you visible!”
“It did,” said Aslan. “Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?”
And I would quote out the entire ending scene, but it would be too long. I can’t wait for the movie, and I do hope they’ve done it right. I’ve read that the much cherished ending is been kept intact!
I own a collector’s edition hardback of the whole series.
1. The Hero and the Crown
by Robin McKinley
No it’s not Christian, but there’s a reason it’s number one. This is perhaps the best stand-alone fantasy novel ever written. It was also the first fantasy book I ever read, but after twenty years I STILL haven’t changed my opinion.
The Hero and the Crown is the prequel to The Blue Sword mentioned above. It takes place several hundred years before The Blue Sword. The topography of the land is drastically different, so McKinley rebuilt her world from the ground up.
It’s the story of a Princess who has always been told she was unwanted. Her Kelar (magic) doesn’t show up like other teens, so she seeks to prove herself in other ways. She becomes known as Lady Aerin, Dragon Killer. Wielding the famous Blue Sword, she battles a black dragon as large a a mountain, duels a dark wizard, and takes on an entire army of demon-knights.
If you like strong heroines, you’ll love this one. And please take my word for it… this difficult to impress reviewer has placed this book at Number 1, so put it on your reading list. It’s a must read for any fantasy fan.
The Hero and the Crown was also a 1985 Newberry Medal winner. And yes… like The Blue Sword, I also own a 1st edition hardback.
So, is your favorite here? No? Tell me about it in the comment section! I’m always looking for new books to add to my reading list! And be sure to check out the rest of the CSSF Blog Tour (links below) and see what their favorite books are!
UPDATE — Having recently read Alpha Redemption, by NAF’s own PA Baines, I was so floored and overwhelmed by this awesome book that I’ve made a change to my top ten for the first time in many years. Alpha Redemption will now be placed at #10. Sorry, Blue Sword… you’re #11 now.
Thomas Clayton Booher
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Rachel Starr Thomson